by Michelle Lucas & Charlotte Housden (UK)
You have probably come across this Einstein saying: ‘the significant problems we have cannot be solved at the same level of thinking with which we created them.’ Life and work have become more increasingly more complex and to address this we need to see the world through different lenses. As coaches, we play a key role in helping our clients to think differently. It’s why we often prefer to coach a client out of their office – why we invite clients to map out a situation using objects or stand in different places as we discuss an issue. More recently, we have noticed how imagery can help shift conversations into richer territory. These ideas stem from executive coaching and yet, with some thought, leaders can also use them with their own teams. In this article we take a few examples that we have found beneficial in one to one and group coaching and suggest how they can be applied by leaders with their teams.
Tip one: How to get people present, very quickly
Clients are intelligent and resourceful people, yet the pace of change and the complexity of their organisational systems impedes their ability to think clearly. While coaching provides an opportunity to stop and think – increasingly we notice clients find it hard to be fully present. Coaching sessions are often wedged in between meetings. Clients arrive focused on the past – full of adrenaline from the last meeting and perhaps feeling guilty that they have not completed their actions from the previous session. Or they are in the future – worried about their next meeting or interaction. In this state, it’s difficult for leaders to step back, reflect and see the whole.
What can we do if our clients arrive in this state? Many coaches offer a transition activity to settle them in, e.g. a short mindfulness or journaling exercise. However, for some people mindfulness may be too much of a contrast with their mental and emotional state and journaling may increase the intensity of their thinking. Instead, in our practices, we are gravitating towards imagery to transition into a more generative space.
We use the simple question ‘how are you arriving today?’ which gently shifts people into a generative energy. This question can be adapted to suit a leader’s style, language and needs. The aim is to disrupt internal dialogue, chatter and worry, and help people arrive in the moment. When working with groups it prompts renewed interest and curiosity in other’s contributions and experiencing a new approach together has the effect of building trust and connections within the team. See the sidebar 1 for details on how a leader can use this with their team.
About the Authors
Charlotte Housden is a Chartered Occupational Psychologist, Coaching Psychologist and Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society. She runs a coaching practice for private and corporate clients, as well as consulting – she has recently built a coaching programme for the BBC. Charlotte is a photographer and teamed up with Michelle to create Liminal Muse Conversations cards using her photographic images. Together they run workshops and development sessions to help coaches bring more creativity into their practice. Charlotte writes a weekly coaching blog and is a guest writer for a number of publications and websites.
Michelle Lucas is an experienced and an Accredited Executive Coach and Coach Supervisor. She enjoys taking a creative approach to all her work, noticing how experimentation and innovation leads to unexpected and rich learning. She has co-authored two books and edited one on the topic of Coaching Supervision, all published by Routledge. She is a regular presenter at the Oxford Brookes International Supervision Conference and is becoming known as a thought leader in this field. She has a background in Psychology and HR and has worked with leaders at all levels. Based in Weymouth, UK, her client base is global.